The Best Way to Prevent the Common Cold?

Gargling is one of the best things to do to treat a sore throat. As one of my medical mentors Dr. Klaper instructs:

Take a glass of warm water, add a pinch of salt, hold the glass of salt water in your hand, open your mouth, and take a deep breath. Tilt your head back, slide a generous mouthful to the back of your throat, and, with your mouth still open, gently breathe out through the water. Continue until the end of the breath, and then spit it into the sink. Repeat until the full glass of salt water is used.

This technique works wonders to soothe a sore throat when you have a cold. But I had never heard of gargling to prevent a cold.

Though not popular in the Western world, gargling has been strongly recommended in Japan to prevent upper respiratory tract infections such as the common cold. However, there have been no controlled trials, and it remained unresolved as to whether gargling was really effective, until the first study was published in 2005. As you can see in my video Can Gargling Prevent The Common Cold?, they found a significant drop in the incidence of the common cold, suggesting that simple salt water gargling is effective in preventing respiratory infections among healthy people. They concluded: “This virtually cost-free modality would appreciably benefit people both physically and economically around the world.”

What do they mean economically? Well most Americans, for example, report about two and a half colds a year. Between medical costs and work absenteeism, we’re talking nearly $40 billion a year. So even if you take into account the 71 seconds it took on average to walk to and from the sink and gargle, and multiply that by the average wage to calculate the “cost of gargling” in wasted time, it’s still considered a cost-effective strategy. This is one of the landmark findings that I’m afraid no one will ever hear about because no one profits (other than all those who don’t get sick!).

The latest study was performed to see if it works in kids. A total of nearly 20,000 preschoolers were observed for 20 days, and just like the study in adults, gargling appears to lower the odds of illness by about a third. Gargling with green tea appeared to work even better. Note they speculate that the fact that tap water is chlorinated may have played a role, so gargling with filtered water may be less effective. Also, I would stay away from iodine solutions such as betadine since one can run into the same kind of iodine overload thyroid dysfunction caused by eating too much kelp or thyroid-gland-containing sausages (see my video Too Much Iodine Can Be as Bad as Too Little).

If you liked Can Gargling Prevent The Common Cold? you may also like The Risks and Benefits of Neti Pot Nasal Irrigation, (along with my brain-eating amoeba answer), Sleep & ImmunityAntioxidant Level Dynamics, and Zinc Gel for Colds?

What else might we learn from the Japanese? See my videos:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

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